can renters become stakeholders in shenzhen?

I like meeting and talking with visiting urbanists because the conversation is refreshingly straight forward about constructing society (via environmental interventions). Who are the stake holders, they ask. Where can we find them? What should we ask them? These clear and solid questions help me think more precisely about Shenzhen because identifying stake holders entails (1) acknowledging competing rights to the city and also (2) mapping the fraught and unformed territory of Shenzhen identity; who does have rights to this city of immigrants? And how did might they claim them?

Today, I’m thinking about approaching these questions through the construction and allocation of rental property.  Why do urban village handshakes — despite constituting the demographically significant residence in the city — why don’t they transform migrants into stakeholders? Continue reading

to fill or not to fill…

…that is the question.

The lead article in today’s Shenzhen Evening Daily provocatively asks if the reader is for or against the China Petroleum plan to reclaim 37.9 hectares of Dapeng Bay. To date, Shenzhen has reclaimed 69 sq kilometers of coastline, an area six times larger than the Shekou Peninsula or 6.5% of Shenzhen’s total area. Moreover, of the Municipality’s 254 kilometer long coastline, only 40 kilometers remain undeveloped.

China Petroleum has proposed building a liquid natural gas (LNG) peaking power plant. Also known as peaker plants, and occasionally just “peakers,” these power stations do not run continuously, but rather provide additional energy during peak hours of demand, such as during summer afternoons when air-conditioning use is at its highest. They command a higher price per kilowatt hour than do base load plants, which operate continuously.

There has been a persistent buzz of protest against the proposed plan. The article goes on to say that in Shenzhen news net online survey, over 82% of respondents were against the plan. Moreover, there seems to be government support for the social push back. Last week, for example, a journalist friend said that Dapeng New District Government had no vested interest in the plant, but did have a interest in the coastline. Consequently, the government was using public disapproval as a means of countering China Petroleum, which is a national, state-owned enterprise.

Currently, Shenzhen is handling the stand-off through a hearing. The question facing the board, is whether or not the proposed station conforms to or is in conflict with Shenzhen’s environmental sustainability laws, which include protection for remaining coastline areas. Zhou Wei, a nature photographer and environmental activist has been at the forefront of bringing public awareness to the proposal and its environmental consequences. It is therefor notable that he is not one of the five members of the board that will hear arguments for and against building a Dapeng Peaker.

Of note. Today’s article phrased the question of “to fill or not to fill” in terms of the well-being of the City’s grandchildren:

We don’t know what the future of Dapeng Bay will be, nor do we know how you will view the decisions that we make today. Today we write this letter in the name of Shenzhen, in the hope that every choice we make will not harm our grandchildren.

renting, home ownership, and rights to the city

When roughly 100,000 people were evicted from Dachong, there was little if any public outrage.The migrants, recent college grads, and low-income families who lived in Dachong seemed inconvenienced by the evictions, but not outraged. My friends and colleagues also expressed dismay at the evictions, but not did not take to the streets in protest. Instead, the general response was one of resignation.

I have been pondering what to make of this lack of attachment to Dachong specifically, but the urbanized villages in general.

The SEZ prides itself on its openness to outsiders, boasting that arriving in the city makes one a Shenzhener. What then to make of the fact that the majority of migrants first live in the urbanized villages, yet don’t consider them homes worth fighting for? Is living in the village a kind of social limbo between neidi and Shenzhen? Is “arrival” contingent on property ownership rather than experience and tenure?

I finally realized that as an American, I have assumed that living — whether as a renter or a home owner — in a neighborhood is a process of inhabitation through which one accrues rights to the city. One of these rights would be compensation for eviction, presumably based on one’s length of residency. But living in a neighborhood would also grant one the right to shape the neighborhood through different associations and to promote neighborhood cultural events.

In contrast, it seems that in Shenzhen not only the majority of people living in the urbanized villages, but also intellectuals, officials, and real estate developers consider renting to be a temporary state; renters do not “naturally” or “inevitably” accrue any rights to the neighborhood and by extension to the city. Instead, only village members have rights to compensation, to organize village events, and shape neighborhood culture.

In this context, the political question becomes one of affordable housing, rather than renters’ rights. As I understand the political ethos, Shenzhen inhabitants believe that the government has the obligation to provide all Shenzhen residents the opportunity to buy a condo. For intellectuals, urban planners and even liberal real estate developers the mass evictions when an urbanized village is razed do not constitute a major scandal. Instead, they see the real source of social unrest to be the fact that even working their entire lives, most people will not be able to purchase a condo.

In short, the government has defaulted on its moral obligation to house the people. The replacement of urbanized villages with upscale housing estates just rubs salt in this very open wound.

as shenzhen razes: the baishizhou urban renewal plan online

Shenzhen developer, Lvgem Group (绿景集团) has uploaded a video of the Urban Renewal Plan for the Five Shahe Villages in Baishizhou (白石洲沙河五村旧改专项规划).

Wow. Just wow. And not in the good way.

The current built environment of roughly 580,000 square meters will increase 10-fold, to 5.5 million square meters.

The argument for razing the current settlement and replacing it with high, high rises and skyscrapers is that Baishizhou villagers live in grungy unpleasant conditions that need to be upgraded. The proposed solution is for the developers will work with villagers in order to bring them into the urbanization process.

In a nutshell,  the problem is that the video conflates the idea of “villagers” with the ruralized current residents of Baishizhou. There will be a resettlement area for “villagers”, but who counts as a villager? The actual population of Baishizhou is over 140,000, of which 120,000 do not have Shenzhen hukou. So, inquiring minds want to know: is the plan calling for ten times the space to house the 20,000 residents who do have hukou? Or does “villager” only refer to the actual members of the five villages, which means we’re talking about less than 2,000 people with resettlement rights. And if that’s the case, who will live in all this new, upgraded, hyper-modern space after the current residents have been forced to leave?

A quick visit to 58 net reveals how cheap housing in Baishizhou is relative to the surrounding area. In fact, many young office workers and professionals from neighboring Science and Technology Park (科技园) also live in Baishizhou as to designers and creative talents who work in the OCT Loft. Providing this class with livable (宜居) housing is an ongoing Shenzhen concern. Indeed, there is now an official plaque for hanging on a rental building which confirms a building’s livability.

It is estimated that over half Shenzhen’s population live in the villages, which account for roughly 10% of the area’s land. Arguably, the villages are the city, while high end housing estates and neighborhoods might be thought as wealthy suburbs, with lovely gardens and huge tracks of private spaces. Consequently, the question of who actually belongs to an “urban village” is the social, political, economic question because as Jonathan Bach has argued, the villages have been the incubators where (some of) Shenzhen’s migrant workers transform themselves into urbanites and potentially citizens.

As Shenzhen razes. Stay tuned.